Medically-assisted suicide is an extremely sensitive subject in the modern world. The subject has medical, psychological and religious implications that all confound and plague the ethics behind this controversial operation. While the ethics and the decisions that lead someone to choosing a medically-assisted suicide have been well researched with a plethora of literature as a byproduct, there has not been much research completed on the effects of medically-assisted suicide on a society.
In order to evaluate and understand the effects of a medically-assisted suicide in regards to others (namely those not receiving the operation, but also those around the receiver of the assisted suicide), we must first ask the question “What are the psychological issues and impacts surrounding a medically-assisted suicide on a society?”
What is a medically-assisted suicide, and where is it legal?
In order to have a better understanding of what a medically-assisted suicide is, we must first look towards definitions used by professionals in the healthcare field and understand the distinction between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Medically-assisted suicide, or physician-assisted suicide, is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA) as when a “suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act” . This occurs when a physician provides the materials to a patient to end their life, or the physician tells the patient what to do in order to end their life (i.e. take this many pills, and you won’t wake up) . This should not be confused with euthanasia, which is defined as “an action deliberately undertaken by a physician or health care provider with the intent of causing a patient’s death (e.g., administering a lethal injection) .
For the sake of this article, we will consider medically-assisted suicide encompassing both physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Medically-assisted suicide is legal in four states in the United States (Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana) and is legal in one county in New Mexico (Bernalillo County) .
Viewpoints for proponents of medically-assisted suicide
One point made about medically-assisted suicides is that a physician has the duty to help their patient at all costs. It can be argued that this means doing what is best for the patient, listening to the patient’s needs, and doing whatever is necessary to keep the patient free from pain. It can also be argued that in order for a physician to offer relief to a patient from suffering and pain and complete their duty for the patient, this might mean exercising the right to shorten the patient’s lifespan .
Another viewpoint that leads towards universally accepting medically-assisted suicide is the thought that the life of patient is indeed their own, and that that patient has the right to do what they want with it. This can also be described as autonomy (in which you have rule over yourself), and this can lead towards the transition of a medical model that is more focused on the wants and needs of a patient, in order to allow the patient to have more of a say in the direction and approach towards their healthcare . This can sway the issue towards allowing a patient to choose to end their suffering mercifully and on their own terms.
Viewpoints for opponents of medically-assisted suicide
Opponents of medically-assisted suicide argue that medically-assisted suicide is entirely unnecessary as long as there is good pain management and pain relief for patients, and if there is a solid psychological and social support system for a patient that is dying and nearing the end of their life . If these steps are in place, medically-assisted suicide will be unnecessary and will increase the amount of time a patient will have with their loved ones.
Another argument against medically-assisted suicide is the cost of the procedure. Medically-assisted suicide is much cheaper when compared to palliative care and the cost of the entire support system that would need to be in place in order for a patient to live the rest of their lives comfortably, which leads to some opponents believing that if medically assisted suicide was indeed an option universally available everywhere, that would become the go-to approach towards decreasing healthcare costs in association towards end-of-life care .
Another thought towards not allowing medically-assisted suicide is that how can you tell if someone is in the right state of mind to want to end their life? Other mental illnesses can lead someone to want to end their life, as hopelessness is one of the leading factors that can want someone to end their life prematurely . How will someone be able to distinguish what is right and wrong, and what will become the criteria and protocol to allow someone to choose a medically assisted suicide?
Impacts on the society
The impacts on a society in regards to medically-assisted suicide is hard to measure and research. However, a lot of society agrees that medically-assisted suicide is a viable and correct option for those suffering and nearing the end of their life-span. In a study completed in Alberta, Canada, 72.6% of the respondents to a survey agreed that “dying adults be able to request and get help from others to end their life early.”
Medically-assisted suicide is a touchy subject, as it ties together medical and moral issues. The right to end your life would seem like a personal choice in which there should be no one else’s say but your own. However, ethical issues abound in deciding whether or not you are in your right mind to make such a decision. Some would go as far as having the input of a physician put into the equation. However, the arguments towards not allowing medically-assisted suicide seem stronger and more relevant, in which greater emphasis should be put towards pain/relief management and socially-geared care, instead of resorting to the cheaper and quicker method of ending someone’s life (cheaper and quicker is better in some industries, just not always the healthcare industry, let alone the industry surrounding your life).
- Frost, T., Sinha, D., & Gilbert, B. (2014, January 15). Should assisted dying be legalised? Philosophy, Ethics, And Humanities In Medicine.
- Johnson, S. M., Cramer, R. J., Conroy, M. A., & Gardner, B. O. (2014). The Role of and Challenges for Psychologists in. Death Studies, 582-588.
- Lesser, H. (2009). Should it be legal to assist suicide? Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.
- Levy, T. B., Azar, S., Huberfeld, R., Siegel, A. M., & Strous, R. D. (2013). ATTITUDES TOWARDS EUTHANASIA AND ASSISTED SUICIDE: A COMPARISON BETWEEN PSYCHIATRISTS AND PHYSICIANS. Bioethics, 402-408.
- Physician-Assisted Suicide Fast Facts. (2015, June 2). Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/us/physician-assisted-suicide-fast-facts/